Running for Grinders: A Love/Hate Relationship

I am in love with running! OK, let me start over.
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CrossFit Running for Grinders

I am in love with running!

OK, let me start over.

I am in love withthe idea of running.

I can’t pin down one specific memory as the source of my dislike of the practice of running. Could it have been my brief stint in junior high cross country? Could it be the baseball coaches making us run foul poles when we missed a ground ball?

Could it just be that I was, and am still, not very good at it? I’m not sure. Somewhere along the way I began to get fascinated with the art of running and yet I still dislike it every time I go out and do it.

I know of people who love both the practice and the philosophical Zen quality that long-distance running can sometimes give. These people will spend hours and mile after mile striding out at an easy pace and getting their own “LSD” (long slow distance) runs in for pleasure.

I’ve always wanted to be that person, that dude who opens the front door, laces up his shoes with a smile and just takes off for an afternoon of tooling around the local countryside for a multi-hour jog.

Alas, this is not me. I have done some running and by choice. I have done numerous 5K runs, two sprint triathlons and trained for a third and a couple of 5- and 6-mile road races. Each time I hear that starting gun, I can only think of crossing the finish line and wondering when it will be over. I know a lot of guys my age are beginning to gear up for half or full marathons, kind of a checkmark on so many people’s physical-training bucket lists. But not me, I don’t see myself doing something like that. When I finished my last 6-mile race I remember thinking, “Marathon? No way I’d like to turn around and do that a couple more times.”

Like any training that’s worth the effort, CrossFit, of course, has its share of running. The best thing about CrossFit-based running, though, is that usually your legs are so destroyed from whatever movement you were doing right before you headed out the door, that no one is really expecting you to pound out a five-minute mile.

Despite the stark contrast between my romanticized feelings about running versus my tortured past doing the actual act of running, I was convinced that there was some benefit for a grinder like me to really work to improve. I knew the answers were out there, but I wasn’t going to find it at a track or on a trail on my own. I needed to ask someone who had a good background in both of these areas.

I decided to recruit someone I would consider an “expert” when it comes to running and CrossFit training. My good friend Matt Hatcher seemed like the perfect person to talk to about these two disciplines of training. Hatcher is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a master's degree in kinesiology and USA Track and Field Level 1, CrossFit Level 1 and CrossFit Endurance certifications. In addition to that and numerous marathons under his belt, he coaches at CrossFit 26 and trains at Riverbend CrossFit in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.

Hatcher explains that, “Running is also a very fundamental element of motor development and is present in some capacity in the vast majority of athletic endeavors. This seems to fit in the overall aim of CrossFit to develop well-rounded athletes who are generally prepared.”

I would agree, and that’s why you can find running at the Games, but a grinder like me is more likely to run into it during a WOD like "Helen" or "Murph.". Like most CrossFit Hero WODs, when it comes to running, you don’t have to like it, you just have to finish it.

“The strength and explosiveness that can be developed in CrossFit through things like the Olympic lifts, squats, jumps and sprints are integral to speed development for a runner. These methods will help an athlete to recruit, develop and make the most of their fast-twitch muscle fibers, which will have a positive impact on speed,” Hatcher explains.

This makes sense, and if you are like me and are looking to improve all areas of your training, I think he makes a great point about the overall benefits running gives CrossFit athletes.

Hatcher will admit that it goes beyond just the physical payouts when it comes to running. “CrossFit aids in the physiological development of stamina because the vast majority of the training is done at intensity levels of 80 to 90 percent. That being said, it is important that the average CrossFitter aims to keep that intensity level during the running part of the WOD and doesn’t treat it as a recovery time between hard efforts inside the box.”

I’ll admit that I am very guilty of the last part. I have definitely taken my time getting back to the bar, box jumps or kettlebell by putting in a less-than-max-effort run.

For all my love/hate feelings about running, I do understand and respect its place as a component of CrossFit. I’ll continue to look through my running magazines, read books about ultra-marathoners and buy expensive running-specific shoes in the hope that someday I too will be bitten by the love bug for running.

How do you feel about running? When it pops up on the whiteboard, what is your reaction?

Share your runner tales with me at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com, at Twitter @Grindersgrind or on Facebook at Jtol Grinder.

Stay on the run . . . . I mean grind. Stay on the grind.

— Jamie Toland (JTOL)